“There’s something I haven’t told you. I was mugged.”
The night I came home from my mission, I sat with my mother and my younger sister, Sheri, who was now 18, and played cards. . I taught them a game called Idiot, one we played on the mission for hours and hours to kill time.Sheri had gently chided me for playing face cards on my mission, but I explained Idiot had been a much safer game than Risk or Strategy, games the guys in the Philadelphia mission favored because of the strategy aspects, but games which resulted in much greater arguments. Idiot had been a safe, easy game, less competitive and more fun.
We’d casually chatted while playing cads. It had felt so surreal to be home, the dog nestled in my lap, the sounds and smells of my home the same. Until the following morning, I was still a missionary, still wearing the white shirt and tie, the tag. Technically I wasn’t allowed to watch television or see movies or listen to the radio until then, although there was certainly no one there to monitor me now.
My mother looked up, concerned. “You were mugged?”
“Yeah, I never told you about it because I didn’t want you to worry. It was several months ago.” And then I told them what had happened, about the day my companion and I had been arguing, about the men who’d surrounded us, and about being punched repeatedly and knocked unconscious. The room was silent, the clock ticking behind me.
“I wish you’d told me,” my mom had said, looking down.
“I didn’t want to worry you.”
We didn’t say much more about it, returning to the cards, laughing, changing the subject a bit. My family was sometimes really good at not talking about uncomfortable topics.
A bit later, I headed down to bed, extremely thankful that Mom and Sheri were okay. Two years ago, what felt like a lifetime now, I had been so worried about leaving them, and I had asked the bishop of my ward to keep a personal eye on them. I had been the ‘man of the house’, and he’d promised me he would look after them until I got home.
I walked back into my old bedroom and everything was the same. The dog stayed at my feet, jumping up on my bed to keep my attention while I changed into a comfortable shirt and sweatpants. The same picture of Jesus hung on the wall, my ten boxes full of comic books still lined the bookshelves, the same clothes lined the closet rod. It was baffling, confusing. I lay in bed, contemplating the changes that had come over met he past few years. Two entire years had gone by. All those endless hours of study and silence, of knocking doors, of prayers, of service, of depression, of exhaustion, of tedious boredom. All the lessons, all the people, all the culture. And now I was back in stark cold Idaho potato country like nothing was different, except I was extremely different.
I turned off the lamp and felt the dog move under the covers and position herself between my knees. Snow fell outside in the night sky. It was December 14. The next few days, I would be released as a missionary, reconnect with old friends, and have a homecoming message delivered in my old ward. I’d take care of tasks like driver’s license renewal and address change, and I’d hunt for a job. In ten days, it was the Christmas festivities, all the chaos of family and food and presents and music. Then New Years. And then school would start. Life would continue moving forward, just like it had while I was gone. What would life hold for me now?
Just as I settled into sleep, I heard Mom coming down the stairs. I turned on my side, feeling the dog adjust herself underneath the covers, and pretended to be asleep as she stepped into my room.
“Chad?” she whispered. I didn’t answer. I felt empty, spent, and didn’t know how to engage anymore tonight. I felt her step close and lean forward, kissing me on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re home,” she whispered before heading back up the stairs.
It took me hours to fall asleep. I couldn’t figure out how to plan things out from here. According to the plan, I should find a woman and settle down, get married while I was going to school, and start a family. It’s the only future I knew how to plan. I’d decided on the mission, faced with so many social justice issues there, that I would major in social work, but I didn’t know what my career would be, or who I would marry. And though I had numbed those parts of myself long ago, I still knew deep down that I was attracted to men and not women, and I knew that it was incurable. The best I could do now was pretend that it was gone, and then keep on pretending. What kind of future could I build now?
Eventually I fell into a heavy slumber, and the next morning I rose. Mom made pancakes and eggs, Sheri slept late, Christmas music played on the radio station. The world was the same. I was changed, but the world was the same.
That afternoon, with a simple interview, I was released from being a missionary. I was back to being just a regular Priesthood holder. I was 21, soon to be a college student, and i had the rest of my life ahead.
During the release interview, I was asked to share the story of someone I had converted on my mission, then I was asked how I had changed and grown closer to God. I answered, by rote, but I wasn’t sure any of my conversions had stuck, and I worried that I was farther from God than before. But I answered, keeping the smile on my face where it was supposed to be, to blend in, and to hide myself in the world around me that needed me to keep being something I wasn’t.